Ukrainian forces have taken control of Kherson. Previously, the Kremlin troops had managed the militarily delicate retreat across the Dnipro with surprising ease. Images of overwhelming joy are coming from the liberated Ukrainian territories.
The events in the southern Ukrainian province of Kherson came crashing down on Friday. After the Russian military leadership announced the withdrawal from all areas west of the Dnipro on Wednesday, the last major units crossed the river during the night of the following day. Russia has thus cleared an area of around 4000 square kilometers largely without a fight. According to unconfirmed reports, there are still some Russian units and scattered troops on the west bank, but nothing is known about organized resistance.
The Ukrainian armed forces were thus able to quickly advance towards the provincial capital of Kherson from different directions during the course of Friday. On the one hand, they pushed upstream from the west, in the area of the Dnipro estuary on the Black Sea, and reached the western outskirts of the city, which once had 300,000 inhabitants, by midday. On the other hand, they took control of more and more areas downstream from the east, including the City of Berislav near the strategically important Dnipro Dam.
celebrations in the liberated places
Even before Ukrainian troops arrived in Kherson, civilians expressed the overnight transfer of power. First one, then more and more Ukrainian flags appeared on the central squares and in front of the buildings of the provincial administration. Images of it quickly circulated on social media. When the first soldiers arrived in the city center, they were enthusiastically celebrated.
The Ukrainian armed forces are greeted with cheers in Kherson.
Relief at the end of the Russian terror regime can also be felt in numerous videos that were made in the agricultural area around Cherson after the liberation. Villagers thanked the arriving Ukrainian soldiers profusely, and some women threw flowers at the military vehicles.
Others clapped while short ceremonies announced the return of Ukrainian state power.
In the long-fought town of Snihurivka, the liberators receive applause.
The concern that the highly officially announced withdrawal could be a Russian trap has not come true in any way. But fears of ambushes or mined transport routes probably contributed to the fact that the Ukrainians did not advance even faster. The military leadership in Kyiv seems to have been surprised by the rapid Russian withdrawal. This will last a week, Defense Minister Olexi Resnikov predicted on Thursday.
In fact, it is impossible that Russia was able to evacuate 20,000 men and 3,500 military vehicles across the Dnipro in less than two days, as a war reporter for Moscow state television reported. Since the evacuation was mainly carried out with ferries, there would never have been enough time. But the Russians have managed a well-organized deception maneuver. They may have put the majority of their troops across the river in nightly transfers before the announcement of their withdrawal.
Nevertheless, it belongs in the realm of propaganda when the Ministry of Defense in Moscow claims to have carried out the withdrawal without any casualties and taking all weapons with them. The Ukrainians had shelled the return transports daily; Attacks with the high-precision Himars rocket launchers were also reported on Friday night. The number of Russian victims and those soldiers who no longer made it onto one of the limited transports cannot be estimated for the time being.
Road bridge destroyed
A possible escape route was finally blocked early Friday morning: the Antonivka Bridge near Cherson was blown up over a length of several dozen meters by the withdrawing Russians. The 1.4-kilometer structure, one of just three bridges across the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine, had previously been damaged by Ukrainian artillery fire and rendered transport vehicles impassable, but pedestrians could still walk across it. Now the road has collapsed completely in two places. As satellite imagery prove, the Russians also blew up the nearby railway bridge.
The Antonivka road bridge near Kherson that was destroyed on Friday.
The destruction of the bridges symbolizes that Russia has given up hope of being able to gain a foothold on the west bank of the Dnipro again in the near future. Rather, the action underscores the fear that Ukrainian troops could continue their advance south – to the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed in 2014.
This is not to be expected for the time being. Although Ukrainian saboteurs are said to be active in the Russian-occupied hinterland, military experts say that Kiev’s troops are not capable of a major offensive across the Dnipro. The river will thus become the natural border between the warring sides for the foreseeable future. However, the Ukrainians have the opportunity, as before, to fire their rocket artillery deep into enemy territory and thereby disrupt the supply of Crimea.